Lollipops, dolphins and ghosts were all I needed for a walk with kids in Savannah.
At nighttime open-topped hearses cruise the streets on ghost tours. This is the Southern city known as ‘The Most Haunted in America.’ This is the city in the state of Georgia that was the backdrop for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. (If you’re visiting Savannah you must read this book – that is, adults not kids!!)
Revolutionary and Civil War Battles were fought on its cobblestones. Yellow fever epidemics regularly ravaged the city’s population.
Wandering through Savannah’s Historical District, I searched with my kids for homes painted in the distinctive shades of Haint Blue. The trees with hanging Spanish moss shielded us from the midday sun.
We found doorways, walls, shutters, window frames and walls painted in its distinctive hues of blue and green – reminiscent of the sea. Haint is an old word for haunt or spirits. I explained to the kids that many believed the blue would keep ghosts away. It stemmed from old myths that spirits could not cross waters. Haint blue on the homes would trick spirits into thinking that the house was under or surrounded by water.
It’s believed that this folklore originated from the enslaved Africans brought to the southern coast of the US. They painted their walls Haint Blue to ward off evil spirits. Another theory is that , unknown at the time, the paint itself did have an effect of keeping death away: the Haint Blue was made of a mixture of Indigo, lime and milk that might have repelled the mosquitoes causing the epidemics. Descendants of these slaves known as Gullah or Geechee still live in the coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia and Northern Florida and have maintained many of their African cultural roots and customs.
And what about the dolphins on the walk with kids in Savannah? My kids found them here and there on the drainpipes of the old houses. They’re known as dolphin downspouts or fish drainpipes. The common dolphinfish is also known as Mahi Mahi or Dorado. Perhaps another symbol of the house under water? My kids were becoming experts on tracking them down.
The garden squares and streets in the Historical District of Savannah are mesmerizing. Square after square and street after street are lined with beautiful old homes. If it wasn’t for the cars and parking meters you would expect to find horses and carriages in the streets.
The founder of the British colony of Georgia and Savannah, Gen. James E. Oglethorpe laid out the town in a grid plan in 1733. By 1851 there were 24 garden squares. Almost all of these gardens remain today surrounded by 18th and 19th century homes and architecture. Oglethorpe’s ban on slavery was lifted in 1750 after the British general left the colony. Slaves then toiled and died here.
And then just around the corner from my mother’s home, we came to a halt. We had passed it on numerous times but never noticed it until our walk searching for ghosts and dolphins. The house was trimmed in Haint Blue and next to it was a gate to a side garden. Behind the iron wrought gates there was a fish fountain. On the walls there were flower baskets filled with sea shells. And in case the ghosts didn’t get the message there was another fish sculpture in the side path. I took one last photo. When I looked at this photo later…there was a streak of light emanating from the side gate…
And lollipops? Well how else could I persuade my children that it would be fun wandering and staring at historical homes with me? I had to use bribery to embark them on the tour. But it turned into an amazing treasure hunt walk with kids in Savannah as we searched for Haint Blue and dolphins to keep the ghosts away from the garden of good and evil.
What an interesting tale and one to spice up any walk with children. I adore that first photo, it just looks like it was from another era. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it on Country Kids.
Thanks – I had a chance to just walk around and look at the beautiful homes (and take pix!) while the kids went on their ghostbusters walk.
Jenny @ The Brick Castle says
That’s really interesting. I love that shade and we very rarely see it here in the UK, but it’s often shown on TV – I suppose it’s a superstition that’s obviously much more prevalent over there with you 🙂
I discovered the Haint Blue colour is popular in quite a few cities and towns in the South.
What a beautiful post! It looks like your little ones discovered and experienced so much!
Thank you! It was a fun way to make them aware of the beautiful homes and history as we walked.
How fascinating, it looks like an amazing place to visit.
Lisa Nelson - The Squishable Baby says
Beautiful Chris. I just love historical places. It is a really beautiful tome – and look at those trees. Magnificent.
Sometimes, when taking these tours, you feel that you are actually transported into a different time and place. Well, I wouldn’t want to be transported to 1800 Savannah, as a slaves life wasn’t giggles – but the grandure would be amazing. The big dresses and opulence. Beautiful.
I didn’t know anything about the dolphins. That one with the open mouth looks strange to me – kind of scary.
Thanks for this awesome post!
Thank you Lisa for the lovely comments. Savannah is beautiful. I liked that I had a chance to explain to my kids about the horror of slavery when I was explaining to them the origin of the myths of Haint Blue.
Thanks for a great post, Kriss. Love the pictures – especially the first one and the narration. I felt as if I was there with you on that enchanting walk. It also reminded me of a John Cusack film (I can’t remember its name) which was shot in Savannah. Funny how words affect the mind.
Keep up the good work!
Thanks Sana! The film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil took place in some of the areas we walked xx
Great photos. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I just got back from visiting my brother in Bluffton, SC, and we spent a day in Savannah. Beautiful, charming city. I plan to return. When I do, I’d love to track down that “haint blue door” you photographed (the one surrounded by brick). I know it’s been more than a few years now since you took those photos, but would you happen to remember where in Savannah you spotted that door? Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Kriss MacDonald says
We used to visit often when my mother lived there but it’s been a while! My guess is that this might be near W Jones St in the historical district, possibly heading in the direction of Forsyth Park where I regularly took my twins.